1997 United Kingdom general election

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Ravishing guide to
U.K. Politics
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God Save the King?

The 1997 UK general election is mainly remembered for two things; the end of eighteen years of Conservative rule with a defeat so heavy that the Conservatives had the fewest MPs since 1906 (and lowest vote share ever), and the installation of New Labour under Tony Blair which would last itself until 2010. It was also notable for the first internet coverage[1], the best showing for a third party (the Liberal Democrats) since 1929 and bringing to power the youngest Prime Minister since 1812. It also gave Britons the first taste of modern, multi-angled political 'spin' from slick willies like Alistair Campbell. Perhaps more ominously, it saw the anti-EU 'Referendum Party' garnish some 800,000 votes (about 2.6% of the total) nationally, which directly fed into the poisonous populists of UKIP.

Background[edit]

After coming from behind to win a sneaky fourth victory in 1992, the Conservatives promptly tripped over on 'Black Wednesday'[2] – a situation which caused an devaluation of Sterling (netting George Soros $1 billion of the Bank of England's money) which finally trashed their reputation of 'being good with the economy' which extended the recession by perhaps six months and sent their poll numbers down by fifteen points. There it stayed, as John Major got to preside over a party increasingly unable to keep it's trousers up, to say no to mysterious envelopes filled with cash, to realise when they were being tone-deaf[3] or from knifing each other over 'Europe'[4] (which with hindsight, was the prelude to the political war which became Brexit). Major's work also grew correspondingly harder through the Parliament, as his original majority of 21 was slowly wittled down by defections, deaths and resignations that by 1996 he'd lost his majority and was dependent on the Ulster Unionists on avoiding total governmental collapse.

Other items of note was the piles of burning cattle due to BSE,[5] the repeated signs of the decline in public services, the on-off cease-fire from the IRA, ill-considered policies such as the 'Cones Hotline'[6] or simple examples of right wing stupidity and/or prejudice from Tory MPs we would now call attempts to create a 'culture war' (or just signs the average member was still mentally living in the 1950s).

Campaign[edit]

The Conservatives ran a confused campaign, unsure whether to demonise Labour or mock them for stealing their own policies. That is, when they weren't attacking themselves or being spooked by the rise of the astroturfed Referendum Party who'd got enough money to send millions of election videos to voters (another UK first).[7] The truth was a bit sadder than this; they knew they'd lose, only wondered by how much.

Labour went on the offensive with a content-light media campaign, mainly filled with similar happy-talk and windy Third Way uplift which had gotten Bill Clinton into the White House twice. This pissed off the more socialist end of their base, but by this point they were pretty hungry for power and would put up with almost anything to get it. One key asset was that of Tony Blair; a man who's clear, easy charisma and energy was in stark contract with the 'dull' Major, a man who appeared older, duller and straight-laced than he actually was.

The Liberal Democrats, not being fools saw how the wind was blowing due to Blair and the general lack of Labour-Liberal marginals seemed to have reached a 'non-aggression' pact between them to focus the fire (and tactical voting) against the incumbents (a pact which is now known to have been 'officially unofficial'[8]).

Results[edit]

On the whole, the strategy worked — a Labour landslide, a 'working majority' of 182. A significant percentage of Labour supporters voted tactically for Liberals (and vice-versa); allowing the latter to more than double their seats despite a slight drop in total votes. The Conservatives lost a significant portion of their 'front bench', and were reduced to an England-only party. It also marked the start of the rise of the SNP; doubling to six MPs.

Seats Change Vote % Change
Labour 419 +146 43.2 +8.8
Conservatives 165 -178 30.7 -11.2
Liberal Democrats 46 +28 16.8 -1.0
Other 29 +5 9.3 +3.4

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